Pinocchio and Gepetto may have been from Florence, but the romantic image of a kindly, old man carving a puppet from wood is a distinctly Sicilian one. The art of puppet theater, or the Opera dei Puppi, has especially deep roots in Palermo.
The glory days of puppet theater have long since passed, obsoleted by more modern entertainment options like TV and movies. But Palermo is one of the few places that you can still catch a show, with a few family-run theaters continuing the tradition. Before we went to a performance, though, we visited the Museo delle Marionette to learn a bit more about the art form.
In 2001, UNESCO added Sicilian Puppet Theater to its list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Sicilian performances are usually centered around knights and princesses, dragons and Christianity. Epic Norman ballads like The Song of Roland provide much of the material for the island’s puppeteers, who inject a fair amount of humor in their performances and invent dialogue on the fly.
The museum focuses on Sicilian puppets, but also has a large collection from around the world. From Mali and Niger, to Japan and Thailand. Vietnamese water puppets and French marionettes. The descriptions are all in Italian, but that hardly detracts from the experience.
A visit to the museum doesn’t require more than a half hour, and provides an excellent look into the tradition of puppetry. We had fun here, though I was vaguely creeped out by the rooms full of motionless puppets, who seemed to be following me with their vacant, malicious eyes. Watching Puppet Master the previous night probably wasn’t the best idea.
Museo Internazionale delle Marionette – Website
Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualino 5